KN95 masks and nitrile gloves on January 26, 2022. The masks and gloves have been PPE staples during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

COVID-19 case rates in Contra Costa County went down 21 consecutive days as of Tuesday, which has county health officials eyeing two weeks from now, when the state’s mask mandate is likely to be lifted.

County Health Services Director Anna Roth told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the county has seen a 29 percent reduction in its COVID case rate in recent weeks.

“So this is a good sign,” Roth said. “This does support and indicate we are coming to the other side of this latest winter wave that was predominantly the omicron variant.”

Hospitalization rates — another indicator of how the county is doing against the pandemic — typically follow case rates, both up and down, by a couple weeks.

“We actually have seen four consecutive days of hospitalizations going down,” Roth said. “We’re currently today at 274 (down from 281 last week). That said, we actually saw it go up and down last week … so there’s still some work ahead, but these are all really good indicators.”

Roth said some hospitals reached 90 percent of intensive care unit capacity in recent weeks, and a wave of infections among county workers is still problematic. January ended with 404 cases among county health workers. That number has gone from 47 in July, to 13 in November, then up to 103 in December.

“This combination of staffing shortages, as well as high patient counts, continues to make the hospitals’ capacity and the health care system’s ability to respond a top priority to us,” Roth said.

The county has finally hit the 80 percent mark of all eligible residents being vaccinated, though the number dips when it comes to boosters.

“We know the boosters are really important; 48 percent of our county population who is over 12 have received both their first and second dose as well as a booster,” Roth told the board. “That number actually goes down when we start looking at the equity gap.”

“Right now, we’re only at 29.1 percent African Americans who are fully vaccinated and boosted, and 28.2 percent of Latinx. So we still have a lot of work to do. If you aren’t vaccinated and boosted, you’re nine times more likely to be hospitalized if you get COVID than someone who’s had that booster. So that booster is really important, particularly during this wave.”

County officials said those who are vaccinated and boosted are 68 times less likely to die of COVID-19 than those not vaccinated.

Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the county’s deputy health officer, said he expects the state to lift the indoor masking order on Feb. 15, which may not jibe with the county’s own order, which has three components.

Eight weeks have had to pass since vaccines were authorized for children 5 to 11 years old. The second is reaching the CDC’s moderate transmission tier for three weeks. There must also be fewer than 75 hospitalizations. Contra Costa currently has more than 270 hospitalizations.

“We’re still not there where we want to be,” Tzvieli said. “Over the next two weeks we’re going to be looking at the numbers closely. We’re going to figure out the best way to align our own order with the state’s.”